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Irish FAQ: The Famine [6/10]
Section - 3) What happened?

( Part00 - Part01 - Part02 - Part03 - Part04 - Part05 - Part06 - Part07 - Part08 - Part09 - Single Page )
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Top Document: Irish FAQ: The Famine [6/10]
Previous Document: 2) Why is it controversial?
Next Document: 4) Why did so many people die?
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	The potato crop failed two years in a row, 1845 and 1846.
	There was a partial harvest in 1847 but there were failures again
	in 1848 and 1849.  The cause of the failures was potato blight
	(phytophthora infestans) a fungus that attacked potatoes, making
	them rotten and inedible.

	There was hardship after the blight struck in 1845 but the true
	famine did not come until the following year.  More potatoes
	than ever were planted that spring because people did not expect
	the blight to strike again.  It did.  During the winter of 1846
	the worst started to happen.  People died of starvation in their
	houses (or what passed for houses), in the fields, on the roads.
	Dysentery and typhus became epidemic.  Each took their toll,
	especially among the very young and the old.  Cholera hit in
	1849 and killed many of the survivors.	More people died of
	disease than of starvation.

	The hardest hit were the landless labourers who rented small plots
	of land to feed themselves and their families.	When their own
	crops failed, they had to buy food with money they did not have.
	The price of a hundredweight (112 lb or 50 kg) of potatoes in
	Dublin more than doubled in eight months (from around 16d in
	September 1845 to 3 shillings in April 1846, rising to more than
	6 shillings by October).  Wages did not keep pace.  Some landlords
	treated their tenants well, but most did not.  Evictions were not
	uncommon and tenants who were evicted were left without means to
	support themselves.

	The poor did not just accept their fate.  There were food riots
	and an upsurge in activity among secret societies.  These were
	dealt with as a threat to law and order by the usual method,
	repression with violence if necessary.	There was an epidemic
	in crime as people stole to survive.

	The prime minister, Peel, had 100 000 worth of Indian corn
	imported from America for food relief in November 1845.  This
	was food not unfamiliar to the Irish, but it was unpopular.
	A programme of public works was started in March 1846 to
	employ the neediest.  The works were to be paid for locally.
	The harbour at Dun Laoghaire (then Kingstown) is a good example
	of the type of scheme that was approved: it did not benefit any
	particular private interest but was supposed to be of social
	value.	Unfortunately most of the schemes were of little value to
	anyone and, although three quarters of a million were employed
	on them by March 1847, they were paid a wage (about 12d a day)
	too low to feed a family.

	A traditional policy of Peel's party, the Tories, was support for
	the Corn Laws, which restricted imports of grain.  The failure
	of the potato crop in Ireland helped convince Peel that this
	protectionist policy was wrong.  He moved to have them repealed.
	In this he was successful.  The Laws were repealed in June 1846
	but Peel lost power immediately afterwards, having alienated
	a large portion of his own party.  The next prime minister was
	Russell, leading a Whig minority government.

	In March 1847 the government abandoned public works and started
	a new scheme.  Soup kitchens were opened, paid for by charity,
	local rates and government aid.  By July three million people were
	being fed a day.  It was probably the most successful (in terms
	of lives saved) that was tried, but it was abandoned in September.

	Instead, the Irish Poor Law System was supposed to cater for
	the destitute.	This System had been established in 1838 as an
	extension of the English system in Ireland.  The harsh conditions
	in Poor Law houses were supposed to encourage self-reliance,
	thrift and hard work.  200 000 were housed in July 1849 and
	"outdoor relief" was given to a further 800 000.  The system had
	been built to house 100 000 and before the famine it rarely
	housed more than 40 000.  As a solution to the plight of the
	famine-stricken, it was not only woefully inadequate; it was
	horrific.  The infamous "Gregory clause" denied even this much
	relief to anyone who owned more than a quarter of an acre of land.

	The blight struck again in 1850, but not to the same extent.
	Hundreds of thousands of smallholdings had disappeared with the
	people who lived on them.  Many of the marginal plots that had
	been in use were never cultivated again.


User Contributions:

Ivan Brookes
Report this comment as inappropriate
Dec 21, 2011 @ 8:08 am
I'm looking for information regarding navigable waterways for a 44' fly bridge cruiser for corporate entertainment such as the big horse racing events. I've searched the internet and book stores here in Walws without success.

Regards
Ivan Brookes

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Top Document: Irish FAQ: The Famine [6/10]
Previous Document: 2) Why is it controversial?
Next Document: 4) Why did so many people die?

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